Friday, July 31, 2009

Avigdor Lieberman--An Israeli Joe Biden? (Updated)

Avigdor Lieberman has been painted as an extremist and a serious liability for Netanyahu, and it is true that Lieberman is a controversial figure, J. E. Dyer adds:

But what Lieberman has been doing since assuming office is working on one of Israel’s greatest security concerns: isolation. Lieberman has been the principal actor in Israel’s charm offensive with Russia, China, Europe, and now Latin America, with the agenda of strengthening relations and obtaining broad cooperation in discouraging Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.

Lieberman’s native Russian ties give him, it has been postulated, an edge in discussions with Moscow — an analysis that highlights the growing importance to Israel of leverage and goodwill beyond the relationship with the U.S. The trip to Latin America this month represents even more clearly a new policy direction, being the first such visit by an Israeli foreign minister in more than two decades. Netanyahu is scheduled for a visit of his own in November, an even rarer event. Israel’s hope is not only to strengthen ties with regional governments and get cooperation against Iran but also to counter Iran’s own extensive inroads into Latin America.

The latter initiative is emblematic of a U.S.-independent tone emerging in Israel’s foreign policy. Lieberman’s visit to Russia carried such hints as well, producing an emphasis on a common view with Sergei Lavrov regarding the regional dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the need to bring the Saudis and other regional nations into any peace plan.

Analysts who draw their conclusions from a “weak Bibi” perspective — one that assumes Netanyahu must live with Lieberman and not let him do too much — could be missing a more important trend. Lieberman may not be the go-to man for relations with the United States while those relations center on demands regarding the settlements. But Israel cannot allow the settlements issue to bog down its own broader security policy. And Israel’s spearheading of efforts outside the U.S. relationship appears to be accomplished via Lieberman.

Apparently is sort of Israel's version of Joe Biden--without the gaffes.

UPDATE: David Hazony agrees with Dyer's assessment and notes:

The very feature that makes Lieberman distasteful to many Westerners — his power-affirming nationalism — may make him more respected and, frankly, understandable in other parts of the world, especially in places like Russia and Latin America, where strongmen are respected rather than reviled. There is something ingenious about Netanyahu’s deployment of his foreign policy assets, from his assignment of Lieberman to places where he is most likely to be respected and his positioning of Michael Oren (disclosure: friend, former Shalem Center colleague, and fellow Commentary contributor) as ambassador to the U.S., to his own rallying of Israeli public support against Obama’s firm stance on settlements.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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